October 25, 2020

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education gives you strength

Florida schools could lose money with virtual learning options

3 min read
School districts in Florida get state funding based on attendance. With families trying different learning...

School districts in Florida get state funding based on attendance. With families trying different learning options, districts could get less money.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — You’ve probably tried something new in 2020.

Maybe it’s the first time you wore a face mask to get your hair cut or you had your groceries delivered to your doorstep. How about that drive-by baby shower?

For better or worse, 2020 has made all of us get a little more creative. No one knows that more than those on the front lines of education including teachers, parents and students.

With fears over returning to the classroom, some teachers decided to explore new options as tutors or personal educators while at the same time, families are trying school pods with just a handful of children or resorting to other homeschool options.

Julie Shamas of St. Petersburg started homeschooling her kids with the help of a personal teacher before the pandemic hit, but now she’s helping other parents and educators connect to find new education options that best fit their needs.

Shamas believes the pandemic might have opened parents’ eyes to a whole new world of learning possibilities saying, “We hope they’ll take with them the knowledge that there’s so much enrichment out there and some people are going to walk through that door and not go back.”

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For county school districts in Florida, this new exploration could have consequences sooner than later.

School districts get funding based on attendance records. For example, districts can roughly $8,000 per student who physically attends school. Eric Robinson, a Sarasota school board member, said the figure changes quarterly and varies slightly from district to district based on the price of living in that particular county.

This year, the state’s emergency order granted that same funding for kids who were attending online with live teacher instruction and daily attendance. According to Robinson, the emergency order only guarantees that funding through October.

“If the students don’t come back, we could lose more money,” he said.

In addition, districts could lose money in the coming months as students explore virtual schools, the long-standing, “work at your own pace” model districts have offered for years.

Pinellas had 120 students enrolled in their virtual school to start the 2019-2020 school year. This August, they have 2,148 students. In Pasco, you’re looking at a difference of 316 in 2019 and 3,371 in 2020. Hillsborough had 311 virtual students in 2019 compared to 5,802 this year.

Districts get roughly $2,500 less for students attending the virtual model. A spokesperson with Pinellas County Schools said the district only gets that money if and when the student completes and passes the grade, something Robinson is worried about.

“If that student transfers back to traditional brick and mortar, we get zero funding but we get 100 percent the expense of the student,” said Robinson.

10 Tampa Bay reached out to the Florida Department of Education about how they plan to secure funding for school districts with so much uncertainty. A spokesperson said she is working on our request. We’ll update this story when we hear back.


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